Lady Gator basketball back in action

The Florida’s women’s basketball team has not played a game in nearly two weeks, a stretch reserved for final exams. Players studied while a coach worked and worked and worked and worked.

And worked.

“I haven’t had a break,” Florida’s Amanda Butler said. “But that’s OK. It’s been time well spent, time definitely needed to practice, for recruiting and time away from games to get better and for me to have some time on the road, so it’s been very productive.”

Butler, who took over the Gators’ program in April, has been grinding away, milking every opportunity to build a winning program. The Gators have not made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances since the mid 1990s, back when Butler was in the Gators’ backcourt. Days off? Who needs them? 

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Butler said. “I’m sure there’s been a day or so where I have not worked. But right now, we have a lot of things to do. There’s not time for breaks. Maybe there will be breaks in the spring. Maybe there will be breaks in the summer. Maybe there will be breaks a few years from now, but right now we’re not looking for breaks. We’re looking for opportunities to get better and opportunities to maximize the time we do have.”

So far so good. The Gators are 5-4 as they head into Sunday’s 2 p.m. home game against Texas Christian. The goal is to keep progressing in time for Southeastern Conference play, which begins Jan. 10 at Kentucky.

“We certainly used the time (off) to put in new things,” Butler said. “We needed to add wrinkles to what we already had in. We needed to improve things we already had and really pay attention to the detail more. That was contributing to our turnover problem. We were just way too relaxed with the ball. Our intensity level was not there in terms of what we need to be most focused on that particular play or that particular moment of the game.”

Fatigue might have been an issue. Not to worry, physical fitness has been addressed.

“It’s very hard to maintain your conditioning when you’re playing games, one, two, three days apart,” Butler said. “That may sound kind of strange, but a game only lasts 40 minutes. It gave us a chance to get in the weight room. It gave us a chance to get up and down the floor a little bit and do more fullcourt work than we’ve been able to do in a long, long time.”

The Gators have relied on three starters for much of their offensive production – forward Marshae Dotson (14.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and guards Depree Bowden (13.3, 4.4 rpg) and Sha Brooks (11.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg). However Brooks enters the TCU game mired in shooting funk, connecting on just 21.2 percent (11 of 52) of her 3-point shots.

“Certainly we know that (Sha’s) capable of shooting better,” Butler said. “We know she’s capable of more offensive production, but she’s giving us so much defensively.  She’s giving us so much offensively besides points by stepping in and running the point (guard position) a little bit. That was one of the things we worked on the past few practices as well. It’s not been as much as a negative as it may seem from the outside, because we’re getting more points from Marshae (Dotson). We’re getting more points from Aneika (Henry). The ball’s being spread around more. We’re becoming a better passing team, as opposed to Sha hitting threes. It makes us harder to guard ultimately, hopefully.”

A win Sunday puts Florida at 6-4 with a chance to match – or surpass – last season’s output of nine wins before league play begins, a start that leaves Butler somewhat ambivalent.

“That’s kind of tough,” she said. “I always have very high expectations. So I think there are some games that I would have thought we would have won. The flip (side) of that is that there were a couple games that I thought, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen here.’ There have been surprises both ways. Most of them have been positive surprises. There’s no way that I underestimated what this team was capable of. But there’s also been unforeseen things that have happened. Jen Mossor breaks her hand. Ndidi Madu tears her ACL. Those are things that you can’t account for when you’re thinking three months ago what you think is going to happen.

“The thing that I’ve been focused on and have been from the beginning — how hard are we competing? Are we continuing to get better? Those two things we certainly are accomplishing. That still remains what I’m most focused on. I still feel like, on a daily basis, that we’re accomplishing that.”